Friday 28 September 2012

Cataloguing Lapses in two US Collections

US collectors justify their buying freshly "surfaced" (from "underground") items by a variety of arguments, including that the museums run by other ("source") countries are poorly-run. The frequency of this sort of argument trotted out every time brown-skinned guys ask for help preserving their country's heritage means that we should pay close attention to how well US institutions fare in the same regard. Today two news items indicate that the US has no reason to rest on its laurels. In the first the Barry Landau document theft case we read of the efforts of the University of Vermont Libraries to get their stolen stuff back. Now imagine that instead of the stolen scribblings of past Presidents of the USA it was a stolen mummy mask from an Egyptian museum storeroom that an institution was trying to get back from the US.  
several historical documents were returned to their rightful home in Bailey/Howe. Historian and collector Barry Landau gained access to and eventually stole from the library’s Special Collections last summer by promoting himself as an acclaimed presidential historian [...] “We recovered the documents that were used as evidence and were clearly identifiable as ours,” Marshall said. Because Special Collections does not have a catalog for every document in the collection, which holds over one million documents, there is no way to know if every single item was retrieved, he said. 
Then the 'duh' moment: 
 Ever since the documents have been stolen, Special Collections no longer allows book bags to be brought in and requires a form of identification before entering. Security cameras have also been installed, Marshall said. 
So, like most libraries of this kind have been doing the world over for decades? Bravo.

Remember the lady who bought a Renoir painting at a West Virginia flea market two years ago for seven dollars? The painting was due to be sold on Saturday. 
the Washington Post poked around the Baltimore Museum of Art's library and found that the museum had been in possession of the work, called "Paysage Bords de Seine," from 1937 till at least 1949. On loan from a Baltimore native, the piece was stolen in November 1951, but the museum's current staff didn't realize that until this week
Bearing in mind the ongoing saga of the St Louis mummy mask the Associated Press article on the topic contains the information concerning an annotated catalogue card and a corresponding muddle in the museum's documentation about this item:

This undated handout image provided by the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) shows an orange card, the only record the museum has that a Renior painting was stolen from the BMA, Nov. 17, 1951. Officials at the BMA are combing through their paper records to learn more about a recorded theft of a Renoir painting from the museum in 1951 after seems to have turned up recently at a West Virginia flea market sale. While no police report has been uncovered yet, an expert on art thefts says the museum has a good case to reclaim the painting for its collection.
The Egyptians have far more documentation of the movements of the Ka Nefer Nerer mummy mask but the US museum that bought it after it was stolen is hanging on to it, saying that it needs "more" - more than is required for an object to be returned to an institution within the USA.
( Photo AP/Baltimore Museum of Art)

Kevin Santamaria,'Stolen docs returned to library' Vermont Cynic, September 27, 2012

Ally Schweitzer, 'Renoir Painting Found at Flea Market Was Stolen From Baltimore Museum', Washington City Paper, Sept. 27, 2012

Brett Zonger (Associated Press), 'Baltimore police uncover 1951 theft report on stolen Renoir painting discovered at flea market', Greenfield Reporter September 28, 2012.

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